The Watchful Eye and the Cracking Whip: A Field Experiment on Corruption Monitoring in Mexico

March 23, 2016

Investigator: CDEP Affiliate Paul Lagunes

Corruption vulnerabilities exist where government officials have power over the provision of goods and the imposition of costs. Building permits and infrastructure contracts are examples of state-issued goods. Traffic tickets and tax liabilities are examples of costs levied by the state. These and other corruption vulnerabilities turn to actual threats when officials calculate that the benefits of abusing their power are greater than the penalties associated with getting caught. By a similar logic, the formula for corruption control requires increasing the probability of detecting corruption—that is, of activating the Eye—through enhanced monitoring, and then effectively cracking the Whip by applying the appropriate penalty in response to wrongdoing. Notably, the common policy response to corruption often emphasizes only the first of the two mechanisms. Governments prioritize transparency measures, but avoid the risks associated with confronting corruption. Therefore, as a means to improve on the current situation, this book examines distinct approaches to promoting accountability, especially accountability among the set of unelected officials responsible for regulating the built environment. I study the implementation of Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act, and analyze the results of field experiments on corruption control conducted in the City of Queretaro in Central Mexico, urban and peri-urban districts in Peru, and two of New York City’s boroughs. The book offers evidence-based recommendations on how societies can go about fighting bureaucratic corruption.

The results of this project are presented in a book manuscript which is currently under review.